Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos are set to finalise their divorce this week — here’s what typically happens when billionaires break up

In April, Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos finalised the terms of their divorce after 25 years of marriage. Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty; Skye Gould/Business Insider

Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon, and his wife, MacKenzie Bezos, are set to finalise their divorce settlement this week. The couple, who have four children, filed for divorce in January following a trial separation after 25 years of marriage. They finalised the terms of their divorce in April.

A lot more was at stake for Bezos, the richest man with a reported net worth of more than $US157 billion, than for someone in a typical divorce – as is often the case with high-net-worth couples.

“The major thing for billionaires is that most of the time, their assets are very complex and mostly illiquid – with Bezos, a lot of his assets are linked to Amazon stock,” Jacqueline Newman, a matrimonial-law attorney who is a managing partner of Berkman Bottger Newman & Rodd LLP, told Business Insider.

The Bezoses’ state of residence, Washington, further complicates matters for Bezos’ Amazon holdings. It’s a community-property state, which means wealth accrued during the couple’s marriage could be split in half, Karin J. Lundell, a matrimonial and trust and estate partner at Rower LLC, told Business Insider.

Such distribution could be altered if the Bezoses signed a prenuptial or a postnuptial agreement, she said: “Often, very wealthy people have prenups that lay out the division of their property. A prenup can carve out certain things and say, ‘We’ll divide this up.'” TMZ previously reported that the couple did not have a prenup, citing “sources with direct knowledge” of the situation.

In a Twitter statement on April 4, MacKenzie Bezos said she was granting Jeff Bezos all of her interests in The Washington Post and Blue Origin, and 75% of the Amazon stock co-owned by the pair and voting control over the shares she’s retaining.

Her remaining stake in Amazon is estimated to be worth about $US38 billion at current prices, making her the third- or fourth-richest woman, according to Forbes’ list.

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A fortune tied to company stock, like Amazon, complicates divorce for billionaire couples

Having a net worth tied to company stock is an issue billionaires like Bezos often have to contend with in a divorce. Deciding what to do can get tricky – you could transfer the stock itself, but if you do, you could lose control of the company depending on your stake, Newman said.

But running a company brings more issues for divorcing billionaires than the possibility of having to transfer or sell a stock to fund a settlement and possibly lose company control.

“Most of the time, it’s valuation issues – how to value assets in business,” Lundell said. “The publicly traded stocks are easy to value – you don’t want to sell because that causes fluctuation. Business interests that are harder to value and are more complex assets, The Washington Post, we don’t know the value of that.”

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With assets that are hard to value and hard to liquidate, divorce proceedings can take longer because there’s a more complex evaluation, according to Newman.

And for billionaires in the public eye, like Bezos, there’s also the issue of how the divorce will affect the company, Newman said: “They could be distracted or emotionally charged, there could be concern about whether there will be a transfer of actual shares and who’s running the company – stocks could go down.”

For high-net-worth people not tied to a company, such as an actor, their public image could be just as important, Newman added.

But for Bezos, she said: “The concern is the company and the shares. That’s the biggest issue. Beyond that, children are involved. When you’re dealing with people of these levels, there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen, a lot of vested interest.”